Shark Awareness Day

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Were you aware that July 14 is Shark Awareness Day? Neither were we until Highlights magazine clued us in. I was glad of it, knowing how misunderstood sharks are, plus I knew it was tailor-made for lots of fun activities.

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First up was some learning. I read Travis ten facts about sharks, and then he loved doing a few coloring pages and shark counting activities. He decided his favorite was the hammerhead shark and filled out a worksheet about them. Now he wanted to know more!

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We did a deep dive (and I mean deep!) into videos about sharks. By the end of the day, Travis was a graduate of this ‘Shark Academy’.

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We didn’t forget about little sister Veronika! She was in heaven watching Baby Shark cartoons, and happily shouting out, “Shark shark!”

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Now it was time for shark crafts! First up was a newspaper shark. Cut a piece from a magazine or newspaper in the shape of a shark nose coming out of the water, and glue to blue construction paper. Add eyes from stickers or wiggle eyes, then a black construction paper mouth. Travis liked snipping all the white triangles for the teeth!

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We added a strip of blue craft foam at the bottom for the ocean. I swear it is a complete coincidence that the text in the middle said “Brush up on table manners”. This was so perfect I have nothing else to say.

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Next we made shark puppets. If you have blue craft sticks, simply use those. I painted a few blue in a pinch, and let dry. Attach two sticks together in an X using a rubber band.

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We traced a shark puppet template onto blue craft foam and then cut out and hot glued onto the craft sticks. Push down on the stick with the lower jaw piece to make your shark chomp chomp chomp.

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Travis was mad for sharks all day as a result. He pulled out an old shark toy and staged a shark versus Lego battle.

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This prompted us to add one more STEM activity, constructing a shark from random Lego pieces!

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We hope you have fun celebrating Shark Awareness Day, too!

Animal Home Detective

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For his final nature walk of kindergarten, Travis got to play detective! A detective looking for animal homes, that is.

The assignment was not to look for animals themselves, but for their homes. I encouraged Travis to think of options we might see both high and low, big and small. That meant we peeked in the treetops for bird nests, and down by the roots for places a squirrel or rabbit might call home.

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Travis loves finding holes and wondering whether they belonged to a snake or a chipmunk.

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And don’t forget about insects! We found lots of web homes, ant hill homes, and more. Travis was particularly interested today in the vines and leaves, wondering what bugs might call those “home”.

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We paused at one point when we found the perfect rock to sit on and have a snack and draw some of what we’d seen. Travis drew one of the spiderwebs.

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This project is a great way to get kids thinking about why different species have different types of homes, and what each one needs in its particular shelter.

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What animal homes do you spot in your area? Please share in the comments!

Frog in the Grass

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Here’s an adorable game to play outside with a toddler, one that involves both imaginative play and observational skills. We used frog toys because the green camouflages perfectly in the green grass, but any green animal toy would work equally well, or even green beanbags. To wit, we also added a snake and a centipede.

Veronika spotted the frog toys before we headed outside, excitedly declaring, “Froggie, froggie!” so I knew she would love the game. Once we were outside, I scattered the frogs in the grass while Veronika watched, curious. Older toddlers can be asked to close their eyes while you scatter the frogs, making it a true hunt.

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“Frog in the grass!” I yelled, once all four had been ‘hidden’. She was confused until I led her by the hand to toddle over to the first frog. Then it seemed like the most exciting errand in the world!

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After that she was off and running, finding a frog in the green grass, bringing it back to the patio, and then returning for the next one.

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Then we also hunted down the green snake and centipede.

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Once everyone safely made it to the patio, I tossed them back into the grass. “Frog in the grass!” I yelled again. This time she thought it was hilarious, and went scampering over.

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You can add animal learning to the game by making the corresponding noises and motions. Veronika loves to say “ribbit”, and I encouraged her to leap like a frog.

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Next thing I knew, she had two of the frogs kissing on the patio, unprompted!

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We’ll have to see if one of them turns into a handsome prince.

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Chicken Littles

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Here’s an adorable craft for your Easter table, even if your gathering is smaller than usual this year due to social distancing. Kids can get involved with several steps, including painting, cutting out shapes for the face, or helping arrange the flowers.

To start, paint empty baby food jars with several coats of yellow acrylic paint. Let dry completely.

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Cut out triangles for beaks and wedges for feet, whether from felt or construction paper. I would have preferred felt, but paper worked in a pinch!

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Use a black sharpie to add eyes.

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Now your chicks just need feathers in their caps, care of little white flowers, of course! These turned out so cute.Chicken Littles (4)

How to… Feed Feathered Friends

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Travis and I have loved hearing birdsong on recent walks to the bus stop, a sure sign that spring is near. So we loved that this month’s “How To” column in Highlights magazine was a bird feeder for our feathered friends, helping them out while the ground is still quite frozen.

I challenged Travis to think of how he could make a strong base for the feeder from craft sticks. Seven lined up in a row with two across the top and bottom for reinforcement did the trick.

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We repeated this arrangement for the roof. For the sides, glue 4 craft sticks together in a square.

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I hot-glued everything together (wood glue would also work), and then added a few extra craft sticks for reinforcement where needed.

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Note: If using wood glue, consider using binder clips to hold everything together until the glue dries.

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Next we gave our bird feeder a coat of paint.

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Travis chose black and yellow – oriole colors!

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We took a special trip the store for birdseed, following Highlights suggestions for who eats what in which part of the country. We opted for black-oil sunflower seeds, popular with titmice in our region.

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It was so warm outside that we didn’t even need our coats when we went to hang this in the sunshine. We can’t wait to watch the birds enjoy their meal.

Chat with Me Panda Crate

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Veronika’s third Panda Crate, which seems to be aimed at a baby aged 5 to 6 months, is about language development and babble. To tie this idea into a theme, the crate focused on farm animals and animal sounds, which are often easier for babies to say than actual words. Certainly Veronika fits this trend, with “meow” “woof” “quack” and “baa” in her proud repertoire.  So without further ado, here’s what she received in this crate!

One: Mooing Cow

This was a very silly cow stuffed animal that moos when you turn it upside-down. Veronika wasn’t quite sure what to make of this little fellow!

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I tried playing pass back and forth with her, but she was a little scared of the cow! Instead, I encouraged her to moo along, and brought the cow back for later books and games (read on).

Two: Stacking Animals

These wooden animals – a pig, a sheep, a duck, and a bunny – are fantastic. They are just the right size for little hands, lightweight but sturdy, and lend themselves to numerous games. We lined them up in a row…

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…and then I showed her how to stack them flat on their sides, easier than standing them upright.

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When I stacked them atop one another, she was eager to topple the animal tower over! I can definitely see how this toy will grow with her, once she’s able to stack them herself.

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Three: Peek-A-Boo Barn

The farm fun continued with this neat vocab-building toy. Because each of the three barn doors opens in a different way (twist, lift, or slide), you can emphasize these verbs while your little one plays. Certainly Veronika didn’t waste any time getting her hands busy with it.

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She even played peek-a-boo with the duck up top!

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We returned to the theme of animal noises as she played, and I asked prompting questions like, “Where is the horse?” to build her animal vocabulary.

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Four: Pull-Along Truck

This gross motor toy was a welcome addition to the crate. The fabric upper body Velcros around the wooden wheel base, although ours was a bit droopy. That didn’t deter Veronika from zooming it everywhere!

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There’s room for onomatopoeia here, making truck sounds like vroom vroom and beep beep as you play. It’s also just right for loading in the wooden animals and giving them a ride.

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I can’t wait until Veronika is old enough to pull it as she walks, but for right now she was more than happy to push it along at a crawl.

Five: Board Book

As with every crate, this one featured a book about our friend Panda. In this one, Panda says hello to different animals on the farm.

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The book features numbers as well as animal sounds, and we recruited our new friends (the mooing cow and the wooden animals) to act out the story!

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Now it was time to check out this crate’s Wonder magazine. There were linguistic tips for every age, including activities we did when Veronika was 0 to 3 months old (sitting close and cooing back), 4 to 6 months old (repeating single-syllable sounds) and 7 to 12 months old (narrating the day). I liked the tip about praising language use instead of correcting it, which we’re prone to do as parents.

Wonder also had a page about baby signing, featuring 6 signs that Veronika already knows: milk, eat, more, all done, play, and help.

The suggested “Beyond the Crate” activities were mainly ones Veronika and I have done before. First up: Sounds All Around i.e. playing with onomatopoeia. She loves to copy sounds, so I thought of some fun new ones. While playing with her tea set, I added a  “pssssh” pouring sound.

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She was soon eagerly pouring for our tea party and shoving the cup in my face for a “sluuurp!” We also love to “beep boop” our light switches and to “choo choo” our trains.

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And of course, animal toys are ripe for onomatopoeia play, so we circled back to the new wooden ones.

There was also a recommended game of Tot Talk (responding to your baby’s babble as if having a real back-and-forth conversation). We do this often, and Veronika loves to monologue at me!

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Lastly, we played In Full Swing, a cute way to teach hello and goodbye as you push your baby on a swing. Veronika is just starting to wave and say hi to other babies, so she loved this game. Add other words like “forward” and “backward”, too.

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For musical fun, the natural song to sing with this crate is Old Macdonald Had a Farm.

Finally, we checked out three recommended books:

  • Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig
  • Listen to the Pets by Marion Billet
  • Who? A Celebration of Babies by Robie Harris

Who Says MOOO?

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Here’s an easy variation on teaching animal sounds to your little one. Print out brightly colored pictures of a few favorite animals (or cut them from children’s magazines) and have them laminated.

Now you have the perfect “flash cards” for having fun with sounds.

Veronika knows and copies two of these already: cat:meow and dog:woof, so I showed her these cards first.

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She loved the cat image so much she hugged it and didn’t want to put it down.

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The dog got her experimental “ffff” sound, plus silly play.

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When I showed her the cow and asked,”Who says moooooo?” in a loud imitation, she looked up at me in delight. She’d never heard such a long moo. I think she even tried to vocalize it back.

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We also went through a few common animals like horse:neigh, pig:oink and sheep:baa.

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The cards themselves were a delight to her, so we’ll keep these around for lots of play and learning!

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Gallant Challenge: Endangered Animal Art

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Travis is inspired every time he reads the profile on Gallant Kids in his Highlights magazine. This month’s read was about a girl who paints pictures of endangered animals and sends the proceeds from her sales to charities that aid animals. We loved the idea, and immediately decided to make some pictures of our own.

Because Travis loves snakes, we looked up which species have populations that are decreasing or at risk.

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First, Travis drew a pit viper.

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He was so proud of the colors he blended together and immediately wanted to draw more snakes.

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Pretty soon, he had an “art gallery” wall filled with a snake pictures, featuring everything from a yellow-horned lancehead snake…

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…to mom and baby tropical forest snakes.

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Obviously Travis won’t be making money from these little drawings, but I loved how proud he was, how the activity got him thinking about conservation and protecting animals, and how it challenged his artistic skills as he thought hard about how a snake’s body and head should appear on the page.


Snack Animals

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Independence is so crucial to kindergartners, and I have loved watching Travis’s confidence grow since school began only a month ago. Now, he wants to do all the little steps himself each day, from buttoning shirts to buckling his backpack. Being able to serve themselves drinks and snacks is also key for kids’ independence at this age, so we created this adorable snack animal to keep easy snacks at hand!

To start, remove the lid from an empty oatmeal canister, and trace twice on cardboard. Note: I found an old cereal box easier than stiffer cardboard packaging for tracing and cutting out. That said, it means your final animal won’t be quite as sturdy and might sit on your counter instead of standing!

Draw legs below each circle and cut out; these will be the front and back of your animal.

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Travis decided we should turn ours into a cow, but really any animal will work! Highlights magazine also suggested a pig or a deer.

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For the cow, we painted the legs white with black spots.

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I cut an additional shape to be the cow’s head, which we glued to one of the circles.

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Don’t forget to paint the canister, too, which received its own coat of white paint and black dots.

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Once the paint dries, glue the head piece to the lid of the canister. Glue the back legs to the back of the canister.

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Let the glue dry, then stuff with treats! You can also add yarn for a tail, depending which animal you choose. Pink would have been cute on the pig version!

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As noted, our cow kneels down a bit, but Travis loves that he can help himself to an afternoon treat.

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Summer Baby Field Trips

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If it’s your baby’s first summer, you may be hesitant to get out and about in the heat. But here are a few of my suggestions for places that – yes! – you can take baby. Veronika is 9 months old for all of the ideas below, but you can adapt them for your child from birth on up.

Head to the Pool:

Ideally, there will be a kiddie area with shallow water where you and your baby can sit together. Worst case scenario, camp out on the shallowest step.

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Veronika loved hanging out here, kicking her feet and dipping her hands in the water. Bigger kids brought her a few pool toys, which made fantastic teething rings.

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Tips: Make sure to stay in the shade as soon as you’re out of the water and dried off, and come prepared with plastic baggies (for wet bathing suits), swim diapers, regular diapers, a change of clothes, and snacks or milk (depending on age).

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If you’re inclined to go deeper, take baby in your arms to swish around; babies love this feeling of weightlessness.

Butterfly Garden:

We stopped by a small butterfly garden that’s been in our local area for almost 30 years. The wonder in Veronika’s eyes was immediate as she watched the butterflies swirl and dance above her.

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One landed on her shoulder and it was pure magic. She looked over at me after watching this one, as if to make sure I saw it too.

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She also loved just touching the plants and bright flowers.

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There are so many colors and scents for a baby in this experience! Just make sure you help keep little fingers away from the delicate insects themselves.

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Tips: Go early (right at opening is ideal!). Many places like this will host camp groups in the summer, and I wanted her to marvel at the butterflies without lots of kids in the way. We were lucky to share the room with only two other families.

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Also, consider leaving the stroller behind. She was much more into it when she was out where she could swivel her head and take in the butterflies from all directions.

Admire New Construction:

Big trucks are fascinating to babies and for good reason! There’s noise, there’s movement, there’s lifting, there’s digging. Veronika and I stopped by a local street that’s been under construction all season. There goes whirly swirly cement truck!

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She had no idea what was coming around the corner, but grinned once she saw this bulldozer go by.

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Tips: If the noise is too loud for your little one, consider standing far back, or investing in Baby Banz.

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There will still be plenty of movement and excitement to observe from far back, without overwhelming the senses. Also, try to go on a day that’s not too hot, or when you can be in the shade, since construction sites tend to be sun-drenched dusty places.

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Botanical Garden:

Don’t think your baby will be bored in a place with no toys; as with the butterfly garden, the draw here is for all the senses.

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There are bold colors to take in visually; the feel of wind on hair or sunshine on skin or grass on toes; and of course the smell of pretty flowers.

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Many botanical gardens can be overwhelmingly large, so either find a small one or stick to a small area.

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If allowed, lay down a picnic blanket and spread out a few toys or books to read together and make a little afternoon of it.

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Tips: Just because you’re not at a pool or beach, don’t forget a big sunhat and sunscreen. Also make sure to bring along bug spray, especially if garden trails lead through wooded or shady areas.

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Animal Fun:

I don’t take my kids to zoos, but I love exposing Veronika to animals through local sanctuaries. Although we’ve visited such farms in the past, today she was very alert and focused on the animal’s behavior. She loved watching the chickens and roosters.

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Their crowing startled her a little, but she was fascinated watching them take dirt baths or roost up high.

She also loved the cows! For each animal we marveled at, I reminded her of their noises. “Moo moo!”

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The sheep were enjoying a morning munch on grass, which she seemed to love.

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There’s lots of great ways to expose your baby to new vocabulary on a trip like this, too. Barns and tractors come to life, instead of being abstracts in a board book!

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Tips: Go in the morning. Animals will be more active before the hottest part of the day, and your baby will notice movements more than sleeping animals.

Where have you taken your baby this summer? Please share in the comments!